Today’s quick take: Aisle and isle are pronounced the same, but they are very different words. I’ve seen the wrong one used in challenge entries several times.
An aisle is a narrow walkway, such as the one between rows of seats in a church or a theater.
An isle is a small island.
Too often, an entry will have a sentence like this:
Sharon walked down the isle and took the hand of her handsome groom.
Unless they’re getting married on the beach, the writer probably meant aisle.
Continuing with my series based on the Challenge Judging Criteria—this week I’ll look at the well-constructed poem
. Apologies to any of you who heard my presentation on poetry at the conference last year; I’ll be covering much of the same material (although in less detail).
This lesson can only give you the tiniest smidgeon
of the characteristics of well-constructed poetry. My goal is merely to get you to pick out an item or two that you might consider trying in order to improve your poetic skills. If you see something here that interests you, please do some self-paced research and practice.
1. If you write traditional, rhyming poetry, rhyme well
a. avoid predictable, clichéd rhymes (love/above, girl/curl)
b. rhyme interesting words—words with more than one syllable, ‘salsa’ words, comical words. Google Stephen Sondheim and study his lyrics to almost any song for some eye-opening rhyming skills
c. use internal rhyme
d. avoid forced rhymes—choosing a word simply because you needed a rhyme, and forcing the words of the rest of that line to make that word work
e. use slant (inexact) rhyme
f. vary your rhyme schemes. Instead of rhyming the 1st and 3rd lines and the 2nd and 4th, switch it up in any number of interesting ways
g. use RhymeZone.com as an excellent resource for rhyming words
2. If you write traditional poetry, master meter
a. count the number of syllables in each line. There should be a pattern. NOTE: you do not
have to have the same number of syllables in each line—just a consistent pattern
. Quick practice—count out the syllables of each line of “Amazing Grace”, tapping your fingers for each syllable. Do you hear the 8,6,8,6 syllable count? That’s just one of thousands of possible meters—but a good one for beginners.
b. count the stressed and unstressed syllables
in each line. There should be a pattern. The most common pattern consists of alternate stressed and unstressed syllables, but there are many other ways to do it. Figure out a pattern, and stick to it.
c. Once you’ve mastered a and b—you know who you are—write more interesting meters
. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll move on. Some poets are definitely stuck in the 8,6,8,6 groove.
3. If you write free verse—use poetic language
. Free verse is more than just prose written in varying line lengths. The free verse poet uses language differently
from the prose writer.
a. vary your syntax (the order of words in a sentence/line)
b. use imagery—a free verse poem should not be overly abstract
. Imagery consists of words that appeal to your senses.
c. use figurative language: metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, symbolism
d. choose words for their sounds: assonance, consonance, alliteration, repetition, onomatopoeia
e. toss the rules of punctuation and capitalization out the window—but have a reason for doing so
; everything you do should enhance the meaning of the poem
4. Use enjambment
—where you carry on a thought from one line to the next without punctuation—and then you put the punctuation where it would naturally fall, even if it’s in the middle of a line. I used too much of it in my sonnet Defiance
, but it should give you the idea. Not every line needs to end with punctuation or even a ‘mental pause’.
HOMEWORK: You have a choice.
1. Ask a question about well-crafted poetry. OR…
2. Add your own item to this list—what do you think makes the difference between a well-crafted poem and a mediocre one? OR…
3. Find a poem that you think is well-crafted, either here on FaithWriters or elsewhere. Post no more than 8 lines of it, and tell what makes it excellent. OR…
4. Write a stanza or two, incorporating one of the listed skills above. Let me know which one you were using (internal rhyme, for example, or metaphor, or any of the others…it’ll help me to respond if I know what I’m looking for).